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What Is a Gender Pay Gap?

Women in construction earn about 92.2% as much as their male counterparts.
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  • Written By: Ray Hawk
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2014
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The gender pay gap is a sociological trend supported by statistical analysis that shows that the average median income of women is less than that of their male counterparts in the same industry. While economics inequality by industry is well-documented among the sexes in western industrialized nations, it is not as clearly defined by occupations within industries. Where occupations are concerned, the argument in gender pay gap studies is that women serve more menial roles in occupations due to the glass ceiling, which is a tendency to promote men over women when equal qualifications and experience are present.

In the United States as of 2009, full-time working women on average earned a median weekly income that was 80% of what their male counterparts earned. This varies considerably, however, when one looks at economics inequality by industry. In the construction sector, women earned 92.2% as much as men did, while in the financial services sector they barely earned above 70% of what men earned. The gender pay gap also varies by age group, with there being a smaller wage gap among younger, entry-level workers than there is among older working segments of the population.

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European Commission statistics show that the gender wage gap is also high in European nations. A 2009 study showed that Estonia had the widest discrepancy, with males on average earning over 30% more than their female counterparts. Countries such as Slovenia, Italy, and Malta had the smallest income inequality metrics as of 2009, with men earning between 2% to 7% more than women overall. On average, women in Europe as a whole in 2009 earned 17% less than men. The reason given for such high variation between nations is that, in those countries with low discrimination rates in pay, the female employment rate in low-skilled jobs is smaller than elsewhere, and the labor market isn't as highly segregated as in other nations.

Experts on international inequality often assert that the gender pay gap is closing as societies modernize and higher percentages of the population obtain advanced educational degrees. A study by the US Census Bureau of comparative earnings over several decades does not support this assertion, however. While the gender pay gap in the US has changed at times, widening in the 1960s and 1990s and closing to a degree in the 1980s, the overall trend has been for the wages of men and women to follow a parallel track.

As broad economic conditions affect wages, both those of men and women fall or rise in concert to the effects while remaining consistently apart from each other. Occupational sex segregation concerning pay rates show, if anything, a slowing level of convergence in modern nations. The cause for this has not been clearly defined, and must stretch beyond known factors. A 2006 study at Cornell University in the US suggested that “...unmeasured characteristics...in labor market discrimination...” were responsible for the endurance of the gender pay gap.

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